President Trump said he’d accept damaging information on political opponents in the 2020 election from a foreign power if the opportunity came up, and dismissed suggestions about contacting the FBI about possible interference in a US election.
“I think I’d take it,” the president told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos about a potential offer for dirt on a political opponent. “I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I called the FBI.”
ABC News published the excerpt, part of a two-day interview with the president, on the same day that his son Donald Trump Jr. testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump Jr. has been at the center of questions surrounding a June 2016 meeting between members of the Trump campaign and Russian figures.
The meeting was prompted after Trump Jr. had been told in an email that the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton as part of its “support” for the Republican candidate.
Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has prompted a series of congressional investigations, a special counsel investigation that stated it could not determine with confidence “that the president clearly did not commit a crime,” and an ongoing political battle that has marred Trump’s presidency.
Asked what he would do if the opportunity came up again, the president said he’d “take” the information from a foreign power and, after some prodding by Stephanopoulos, said he would “maybe” also contact the FBI.
“You don’t call someone from the FBI,” the president said. “You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you have to do.”
Stephanopoulos pointed out that during the 2000 election, Democrat Al Gore contacted the FBI when he received a stolen briefing book from the George W. Bush campaign.
“That’s different, that’s a stolen briefing book,” Trump responded. “This is somebody that said, ‘We have information on your opponent. Oh, let me call the FBI.’ Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.”
When Stephanopoulos pointed out that FBI Director Chris Wray has said that political campaigns should contact law enforcement if they are approached by foreign agents, Trump responded flatly: “The FBI director is wrong.”
The president then added that “maybe” he would take the information and contact the FBI as well.
“I think maybe you do both,” Trump said. “I think you might want to listen. There’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody from a country — Norway — we have information on your opponent. Oh. I think I’d want to hear it.”
Trump went on to claim, as part of his reasoning for not contacting the FBI, that the agency “doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it.”
While the president suggested he hadn't called the FBI in his "whole life," Trump has in fact reached out to the federal law enforcement agency. Most notably in 1981, he contacted the FBI before opening a casino in Atlantic City over concerns about organized crime in the city, and offered to "cooperate" with FBI agents.
In Wednesday's interview, the president argued that, despite similarities to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, if foreign figures offered him information on political opponents, "it's not an interference" into a US election.
“If i thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI,” he said. “You go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. That’s the way it is.”